WASHINGTON (AP) – Hampered by huge budget deficits and an unpopular war, President Bush on Tuesday called for training 70,000 math and science teachers to improve the nation’s competitiveness and declared that America must break its dependence on Mideast oil. “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world,” Bush said as he sought to drive the election-year agenda in his annual State of the Union address. He declared that the “the state of our union is strong” despite Americans’ anxieties about the war in Iraq, the economy, soaring energy costs and rising energy prices. Oil prices are inching toward $70 a barrel, throwing a cloud over the economy and pinching Americans’ pocketbooks. Bush called for increased federal research into alternative fuels such as ethanol made from weeds or wood chips instead of corn. Bush’s address came amid a changing of the guard elsewhere in Washington. Conservative judge Samuel Alito was sworn in as a new Supreme Court justice, replacing Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been a moderate swing vote. The Senate also confirmed Ben Bernanke to be chairman of the Federal Reserve, replacing Alan Greenspan after 18 1/2 years in the influential job. Alito was in the House chamber, alongside new Chief Justice John Roberts, another Bush nominee, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas. Facing budget deficits that may approach or exceed $400 billion this year, Bush had no room for expensive, new initiatives. Frustrated by Congress’ refusal to consider his Social Security overhaul, Bush switched gears and asked lawmakers to join him in naming a commission to examine the impact of Baby Boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid costs. Spending on those three programs alone will be almost 60 percent of the federal budget by 2030, Bush said. Three years from leaving office, Bush went before the nation as a politically weakened president after the toughest year of his administration. With Americans anxious about the economy, weary of the Iraq war and unhappy about the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush’s job approval rating is in the anemic high 30s to low 40s. Health care is a priority for both parties, particularly since nearly 46 million Americans lack insurance. Democrats say that in 2005 alone, the number of uninsured grew by nearly a million. “Keeping American competitive requires affordable health care,” the president said. Bush proposed greater tax benefits for health saving accounts, the high-deductible health care plan that allows people to contribute money tax-free to 401(k)-like health savings plans, as a way to expand their use. He said lawmakers also must allow workers to take the coverage with them as they change jobs. As he has in every State of the Union address to some extent, Bush said the United States must curb its reliance on foreign oil imports. He called for more research on batteries for hybrid and electric cars and work on alternative fuels to produce ethanol from wood chips, stalks or switch grass. “Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years,” the president said. “Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By targeting only Mideast oil, Bush was ignoring the largest sources of American petroleum consumption _ Mexico and Canada. Imports of oil and refined product from the Persian Gulf make up less than a fifth of all imports and 11 percent of total consumption, according to Energy Department statistics. The president addressed the nation from the House chamber before members of the House and Senate, justices of the Supreme Court, foreign dignitaries, Cabinet secretaries and other VIPs. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, chosen to deliver the response for the Democrats, scolded Bush on the soaring national debt, the frustrated effort to rebuild the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast, Medicaid cuts and other issues. On Iraq, Kaine said that Americans were given “inaccurate information about the reasons for invading” and that troops were given body armor that was inadequate. “The federal government should serve the American people,” the newly elected governor said in excerpts released ahead of his speech. “But that mission is frustrated by this administration’s poor choices and bad management. The speeches of Bush and Kaine set a tough tone for November’s midterm elections for House and Senate members and most of the nation’s governors. Bush divided his address between problems at home and abroad. With the war in Iraq about to enter its fourth year and more than 2,240 American troops killed, Bush said the nation must not falter in what he called the central front in the war on terror. Bush did not offer any timetable for bringing American troops home from Iraq. There are about 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, down from about 160,000 at the time of the January elections. “There is no peace in retreat,” the president said. “And there is no honor in retreat.” Although the United States went to war on the faulty premise that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, Bush said, “Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.” Despite recent elections in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories that have given rise to religious-based parties with views sometimes hostile to the West, Bush pressed Saudi Arabia and Egypt _ longtime allies that Washington is loath to challenge too aggressively _ to provide greater freedoms to their citizens. “Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause,” Bush said. “Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens. Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East.” He urged Hamas to “recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace.” Bush said the United States and its allies were united in insisting that Iran not develop nuclear weapons. Speaking directly to the Iranian people, Bush looked toward a different future for their country and said the United States “hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.” Bush projected an air of optimism in a time of anxiety about the economy, the war and other problems. “Americans should not fear our economic future because we intend to shape it,” he said. The president renewed his oft-stated goal for Congress to make permanent the tax cuts enacted during his presidency. “If we do nothing, American families will face a massive tax increase they do not expect and will not welcome,” he said. Bush called for greater public spending on basic science research and more money for math and science education. He proposed an initiative to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced-placement courses in math and science. In addition, he urged bringing 30,0000 math and science professionals into the classrooms to teach. “We need to encourage children to take more math and science and make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations,” the president said. President Bush’s State of the Union addresses, by the numbers: Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 Number of words 3,807 5,367 5,148 5,009 Length in minutes 48 67 54 57 Interuptions for applause 75 76 71 66 Mentions of Sept. 11 5 3 3 1 Mentions of Iraq 2 22 24 27 Millions watching on TV(a) 52 62 43 39 (a)Only 2005 figures include audience from Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Telefutura – Associated Press research and Nielsen Media Research AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!